reposted from February 2007

Last night I watched part of a Dog Whisperer episode that I missed about Howie, the (adorable) rescue dog that lived at an animal hospital in Atlanta because he was “unadoptable.” Howie had been terribly abused before his rescue, and while his body had healed he was still terrified and growled whenever anyone new came near him. The ladies who cared for him were very protective of him and did all they could to keep him safe. He lived at the animal hospital for two years before Cesar Millan came to help Howie become adoptable.

When Cesar arrived, he found that Howie had been indoors for two years. Because of his abuse, his foster moms had been afraid to put a leash on him for fear it would bring back memories of the terrible times. They felt he had been through so much, and they just wanted to keep him safe and loved. Cesar always says that dogs live in the moment, and that if we keep living in the past and reinforcing that for them that they will never heal.

Chiron teaches us that our desire to heal others often stems from a wound within ourselves. In the highest form of this “Wounded Healer” archetype, we wait to heal others until we ourselves have been healed. Once we have walked into the fire and shadows of our own wounds and the energy held in the cellular memory has been released, we then experience the empathy to be able to help others heal. However, there is a shadow side to the Wounded Healer in which the wounds of the patient activate the wounds of a healing provider who has not yet fully healed. Jung called this phenomenon “countertransference,” and in this circumstance the patient and healer become locked in a drama from which neither can escape without outside help. This is likely what happened with Howie the rescue dog and the ladies who rescued him.

Those of us (myself included) who rescue animals or who otherwise have rescue fantasies are sensitive souls who have been wounded and who seek to heal ourselves through healing the animals we rescue. This is a Neptunian experience, since Neptune bestows boundless compassion, sensitivity, and an empathy which causes us to experience the suffering of others as if it were our own. While these are beautiful qualities, without the boundaries and discipline of Saturn we become codependent and unable to be effective in either our own healing process or the process of others. Cesar Millan’s famous refrain “rules, boundaries, and limitations” is the Saturn influence that, when combined with the Neptunian empathy, creates a truly effective healer.

I have had to learn this the hard way. With Saturn on one side of my Sun and Neptune on the other, it has taken me a lifetime to learn to balance the two. For years I tried to rescue myself by rescuing others, and finally realized that until the work on myself was closer to completion I would never be able to help anyone else. In the story of Howie, his rescuers were so overcome with grief and compassion at the plight from which he was rescued, they were unable to perform the simplest act that would complete the healing process: put a leash around his neck and take him for a walk. It was evident that Cesar felt compassion for Howie when he gently encouraged Howie to take his first steps outside. But the boundaries that he maintained in not falling into the pool of Howie’s pain helped him to truly heal this dog.

In the same way, those of us with strong Neptunian influences (planets aspecting Neptune or in Pisces and the twelfth house which are ruled by Neptune) need to cultivate the influence of Saturn in order to function effectively in the world. Cesar Millan’s pragmatic approach to dog psychology teaches dog owners this balance, but his lessons are valuable for anyone who lives on Planet Earth.

Here is an update on what happened to Howie.

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